Wow, what a rough day! One of my students, a great kid, did not have his meds for his ADHD, and boy did it throw off the entire day! He was a mess today...crawling all over his desk, scrawling all over his work, picking and poking at the other kids (who, bless their hearts, were trying their hardest to ignore his behavior and do the right thing!), teasing and calling names in line, and then ended up the day by hitting another student in the stomach!
Now, I am not someone who advocates medication as a cure-all for attention problems, but I am really frustrated by those who are knee-jerk opposed to medication to help students with ADD/ADHD. Now, in the four years I've been teaching special education PLUS my year of student teaching, I have had less than five students who took medication to help address their attention problems, and none of those were because we as a school pushed for the medication.
HOWEVER, there are some students who TRULY need that extra help that the medication gives them. My student, E., is a great kid. Normally, he is one of the ones I can count on for a good answer or at least a good try. He tries his hardest on his work, and he's one of the better behaved students. No angel, for sure, but a good kid. You sure wouldn't have guessed it today! Mom forgot to give him his meds before he left for school. It's just so sad that he had to suffer through such a lousy day. Knowing what the problem was, I really did my best to deal with his behavior within the classroom, but you can't push aside hitting someone else. As rough as the day was for me, I know it was even worse for him.
When I was student teaching, one of the boys in the 5th grade class I was assigned to had ADD with inattention. With him, as well, it was blindingly obvious when he'd missed his meds. Unlike E., this boy would just drift off. I could be standing right next to him, redirect him when his attention wandered, and you could tell he was just STRAINING to attend...and then he'd be gone, with me still right there. And these are kids who typically got/get medication. I truly feel for those children with severe attention deficits who do not have the opportunity to see if medication would be beneficial (and for some it won't be, or the benefits won't outweigh the potential side effects), because many of them are being deprived of the chance to fully benefit from their educations. You wouldn't tell a person with cancer that they just need to deal with it, work through it...why are we doing that to students with diagnosed attention problems?
So my day didn't have a good start, and then it got more frustrating. I am lucky enough to be able to sit in on the IEP meetings for the students who are moving up from Early Childhood Special Education to Kindergarten. It's a great opportunity to learn more about the students and their families and to help make decisions about the best scholastic placement for them. One of today's meetings was for a little girl, C., with serious behavioral and academic concerns. I had observed her in her classroom earlier in the month and talked with the Speech Therapist who works with her. When we voiced concerns about her ability to thrive and learn in a regular education classroom of 25 or more students (as opposed to a classroom with half of the students and a great deal more individualized attention), her parents were completely opposed.
I said my piece, described the concerns and expectations of the regular education classroom, and they were just convinced that C. will do just fine...she'll "rise to the demands of the classroom". Well, I truly hope that she does, but she hasn't yet managed to rise to the demands of her 8-student classroom with a super teacher and 2 teacher's aides, so I'm very concerned about her ability to learn in a class of 25 or more with one teacher!
It is frustrating and upsetting to be the teacher that people don't want their child with. That special education stigma is alive and well...and I don't know about other schools, but I do know that, in my school, there is not a stigma among the kids in the primary wing attached to special education classrooms. Our school's studetns move among so many different pull-outs--speech, occupational therapy, special education, medical intervention, social worker, not to mention going to different classrooms for art, music, PE, computers, and library--that it's no big deal for kids to come to my class. In fact, often my student's classmates stop me in the hall and ask when THEY get to come to my class! I try to do a lot of "PR"...fun activities that my students can invite a friend from their regular class to...so that my room is seen as a fun, positive place, and my students are the lucky ones to "get" to go.
Parents still see things very differently, though. I know that it is out of love and concern for their children...I have no doubt about that. Often, though, their fears seem more related to things they've seen on TV or misunderstandings about the special education classroom (my students, despite E.'s bad day, are not a roomful of drooling kids who have to ride the "little bus" or who are delinquent behavior problems! They're just kids who need extra help to learn within their unique learning abilities). And, hey, I get paid the same no matter how many kids are in my classroom...in fact, my job is much easier with fewer students...but I see what happens to the kids who don't get the extra help that they need, and it's heartbreaking.
One of my students, a first-grader, was able to pass kindergarten. Her teacher had some real concerns about her academically, but since she wasn't failing she didn't qualify for extra help. Well, by the time that she WAS failing, 6-8 weeks into first grade, then the process gets started. First, before a special education referral and evaluation, a student goes before the school START team (non-special education intervention). So, you try the START interventions, and if the student doesn't progress, then you go into the special education referral process. Once that starts, you have about 2 months to complete the process. By the time she got to me, she'd been floundering for 1 1/2 years...just not badly enough to get help!! Well, she's pretty well given up. She is academically lower than the majority of my KINDERGARTENERS (and she's in 1st grade!), and usually shows little to no effort. And who would after 1 1/2 years of learning that you really can't do any of this?
On the other hand, my students this year have made fantastic gains, especially compared with some of the students in their regular education classes. I have had the kind of year that really tells you that you make a difference in the lives of kids! There are just a LOT more who need help.